Adelaide Festival: Doku Rai

Osme Gonsalves in Doku Rai. Photo by Thomas Henning.
Osme Gonsalves in Doku Rai. Photo by Thomas Henning.

Twenty people (from Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm, Liurai Fo’er and Galaxy) went to a secluded site in remote Timor to create this production. It’s easy to sense the artistic bonds that formed as a result. In fact, one of the strengths of this peculiar piece is the way that the all-male cast bounce off of each other and work so tightly together.

The story is related to a curse (Doku) placed upon one brother from another to in some way save the family. The cursed brother will not die, eventually sending the other brother crazy after many attempts to kill him – while another guy tries to make a doco film about it. Sound kind of out there? Well it is… very; and as the show goes on it becomes more so.

There is so much that is done well in this non-stop performance that it’s easy to go along on the crazy ride. Not so easy to follow, however, is the narrative, and the audience have to do a lot of work to keep fully with it.

Projected sub titles decode the long blocks of on-stage non-English language. But unfortunately many of the audience did not even see the translations until well into the show (so high up on a single plank like screen).

Albeit, the chaotic mayhem, out of control shouting and running and excellent Timorese popular music leaping out between intense, well-acted moments is appealing and definitely thought-provoking.

Visually – it’s stunning: a water-filled canoe centre stage surrounded by gifts, lighting that comes from a range of sources (including hand-held torches), costumes that play around with gender roles and projected moving image that at times becomes a show unto itself.

There is some deep sharing with the audience also, including a testimony about losing family; and although it’s not easy to fully distinguish some of the English coming from the Timorese crew… it is so obviously emotional and real, and language doesn’t matter.

Family, culture, competition between men and the effect of colonialism are themes that run through this unusual work, that I imagine will polarise audiences.

(And a special mention to the live rooster-actor who was an awesome extra on the stage).

This is an excellent show to begin a festival… it pushes boundaries and takes risks, but within its theatrical complexity carries some important human stories.

Stephen House

Stephen is a writer with numerous plays, exhibitions and short films produced. He has been commissioned often and directs and performs his work. He has won two AWGIE Awards from The Australian Writers Guild and an Adelaide Fringe Award (as well as more), and has received several international literature residencies. Stephen has been Artistic Director of many events. He has been performing his acclaimed solo show, “Appalling Behaviour” nationally from 2010 – 2014 (100 shows to date). Stephen has 2 new works in development.

Stephen House

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